• Assessment should be part of a constructive developmental sequence for the learning experience based on andragogical principles.
  • To enable self-directed, efficient learners, good assessment practice should be purposeful, appropriate, progressive, inclusive, and practical.
  • Engaging students in their learning, inclusive of assessment, should be seen as part of a larger goal of developing self-directed efficient learners.

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Assessment Design and Principles Assessment Design for Engagement Examples of Practice

Assessment Design Principles

The design of assessment of student learning should be guided by adult learning (andragogical) principles. There are several andragogical principles, but primary to assessment design is the need for relevance and value. Adult learners need to see the relevance and value of what they are learning (Knowles 1984).

Assessment design should align the purposes of assessment, the intended student learning outcomes and the endeavours of educators to support such learning. The purpose of each assessment task should be clear to the learner. It follows that assessment needs to be relevant and aligned with the unit rationale and learning outcomes. For more information about the aims and principles underpinning assessment design at ACU see Assessment Principles and Aims.

 Assessment Design Key Considerations : Valid and Equitable - Purposeful and Relevant - Aligned and Strategic
Key considerations in assessment design:
  • Assessment as valid and equitable

    Assessment items should validly assess the desired learning outcomes, and the validity should be able to be verified and checked. Assessment should also be equitable, the aim should be to assess achievement of the outcomes, not uniformity.

  • Assessment as purposeful and relevant

    Each assessment item should map to specific (& specified) learning outcomes and validly assess the desired learning outcomes. Each assessment item should have a clear purpose.

  • Assessment as aligned and strategic

    All elements of the curriculum should be in alignment, they should be conceptualised as inter-dependent, and when considered holistically they should form a progressive system. Assessment is an integral part of this system and should be seen as part of learning and teaching strategy.


The following questions can be used to guide the design of assessment as part of the unit design and review process and have been adapted from Nulty (2016).

  • Are learning outcomes based on a rationale that talks about real-world imperatives the course/ unit responds to?
  • Do learning outcomes derive logically from the rationale?
  • Do the learning outcomes progress through a constructive sequence?
  • Does the progression of the teaching and learning strategy match this constructive sequence?
  • Does the progression of assessment match this constructive sequence?
  • Do the later assessments assess more valuable learning outcomes?
  • Are assessments weighted accordingly to reflect the learner’s progression through this constructive sequence of learning?
  • Are the assessment items clearly linked with each other in a progressive sequence?
  • Are the assessment items timed to facilitate students’ learning?
  • Do all the curriculum components line up as a ‘system’?

Assessment Design for Engagement

Good assessment practice is founded on the design principles outline above. In practice these principles combine to realise the three purposes of assessment at ACU:

  • Assessment as learning
  • Assessment for learning
  • Assessment of learning

The overarching goal is to engage students in their learning, including assessment. Aiming for assessment as learning should be the goal as it encompasses assessment for and of learning.

For more explanation of the three purposes of assessment at ACU, see Assessment Principles and Aims.

Engaging students in their learning should be conceptualised as a progression that aligns with the developmental sequence for learning experiences. These interrelated stages are engagement, efficiency and effectiveness (Nulty 2021). Initially it is necessary to engage students, and enable participation, though scaffolded learning. Once students are engaged, they are more likely to become efficient, self-directed learners, particularly if a unit's design facilitates such approaches.

 Engagement - Efficiency - Effectiveness

Engaging students in their learning, inclusive of assessment, should be seen as part of a larger goal of developing self-directed efficient learners. A key element of becoming a self-directed, effective learner is the ability to make judgements about your own work (Elkington 2020, p.10). Making effective judgments about the quality of your own work is necessary to be an effective practitioner in any field and assessment design can be used to enable this process (Boud, & Molloy 2013; Boud, Lawson, & Thompson, 2013; Carless & Boud, 2018).

An assessment as learning approach to assessment design should enable student self-evaluation. Consideration should be given in assessment design to the development of the student’s ability to make critical judgements about the quality of their own work and then apply this self-evaluation to focus on what they need to improve (Sadler, 2016; Boud, Lawson, & Thompson, 2013). Self-evaluation can be scaffolded through a range of assessment options, including opportunities for learner self-analysis, engagement in authentic assessment and peer appraisal.

Students need to be given the opportunity to make judgements of their own work and that of others (Boud, & Molloy 2013). The use of peer assessment, as part of assessment design, can enable students to gain insight into the parameters of judgement and develop a shared understanding of quality. However, peer-assessment and how it is designed needs to be clearly structured and well guided. Consideration needs to be given to the design of peer-assessment and whether it is used as a formative or summative pedagogical tool (Jackel et al. 2017). While there can be reasons to use peer-assessment summatively, research indicates it is most useful as a formative practice (Jackel et al. 2017).

Curriculum design, through the use of purposeful peer assessment, can develop the student’s ability to make judgements about the quality of their own work (Jackel et al. 2017; Mulder et al. 2014; Chambers, Wannell, and Whannell 2014; Sadler 2010).

To develop the student’s appraisal expertise through peer assessment, Sadler (2010) proposes four questions to guide peer appraisal tasks:

  1. Does a particular response qualify as an attempt to address the issue specified in the task description?
  2. How well does the work achieve the purpose intended?
  3. What are the grounds for the judgment reached, using whatever criteria are appropriate to substantiate the valuation?
  4. How could the work be substantially improved?

Authentic assessment activities are designed to reflect real-life situations and enable the learner to relate the activity to their “work-life situations and address real-world problems” (Karunanayaka & Naidu, 2021, p. 231). The focus on developing the learner’s ability to problem solve, think critically, and learn through investigation of real-world contexts (Maude et al., 2021). The focus of authentic assessment can be extended beyond developing workplace skills to equipping learners for ‘a changing world’ (Forsyth & Evans, 2019, p. 757). Authentic assessment through a process of problem solving and reflexivity can facilitate the development of self-directed, effective learners.

Key elements of authentic assessment (Ashford-Rowe et al. 2014, pp. 219-220)

  1. To what extent does the assessment activity challenge the student?
  2. Is a performance, or product, required as a final assessment outcome?
  3. Does the assessment activity require that transfer of learning has occurred, by means of demonstration of skill?
  4. Does the assessment activity require that metacognition is demonstrated?
  5. Does the assessment require a product or performance that could be recognised as authentic by a client or stakeholder? (accuracy)
  6. Is fidelity required in the assessment environment? And the assessment tools (actual or simulated)?
  7. Does the assessment activity require discussion and feedback?
  8. Does the assessment activity require that students collaborate?

Examples of Practice

Dr Mark Lyall talks about designing assessment to enable learning. He discusses different ways to assess knowledge and learning in a unit that reflect real-world practice and learner needs. He explains how he has expanded his understanding of assessment and incorporates different forms of assessment. For more information on assessment design see Assessment Principles and Aims.

Dr Teresa Brown talks about collegiality as the foundation of moderation and professional learning. She discusses the importance of setting up a moderation process that enables collaboration and the development of a shared understanding. And she explains the role of professional learning as the foundation for developing a shared understanding of the philosophy of the unit, including the role of assessment as part of learning. For more information on moderation see Consensus Moderation.

Ashford-Rowe, K., Herrington, J. & Brown, C. (2014). Establishing the critical elements that determine authentic assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39(2), 205-222. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2013.819566

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university (4th ed.). McGraw-Hill Berkshire.

Boud, D., & Molloy, E. (2013). Rethinking models of feedback for learning: The challenge of design. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38 (6), 698–712. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2012.691462

Boud, D., Lawson, R., & Thompson, D.G. (2013). Does student engagement in self-assessment calibrate their judgement over time? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38 (8), 941-956. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2013.769198

Carless, D., & Boud, D. (2018). The development of student feedback literacy: enabling update of feedback. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(8), 1315-1325. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2018.1463354

Chambers, K., Whannell, R., & Whannell, P. (2014). The use of peer assessment in a regional Australian university tertiary bridging course. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 54 (1),69-88. https://search.informit.org/doi/abs/10.3316/aeipt.202294

Elkington, S. (2020, May 25). Essential frameworks for enhancing student success: Transforming assessment in higher education. Advance HE. https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/essential-frameworks-enhancing-student-success-transforming-assessment

Forsyth, H., & Evans, J. (2019). Authentic assessment for a more inclusive history. Higher Education Research and Development, 38(4),748-761. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2019.1581140

Jackel, B., Pearce, J., Radloff, A., & Edwards, D. (2017). Assessment and feedback in higher education: A review of literature for the Higher Education Academy. Higher Education Academy. https://research.acer.edu.au/higher_education/53

Karunanayaka, S.P., & Naidu, S. (2021). Impacts of authentic assessment on the development of graduate attributes. Distance Education 42(2), 231-252. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2021.1920206

Knowles, M. (1984). The adult learner: A neglected species (3rd ed.). Gulf Pub Company.

Maude, P., Livesay, K., Searby, A., & McCauley, K. (2021) Identification of authentic assessment in nursing curricula: An integrative review. Nurse Education Practice, 52. Article 103011. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nepr.2021.103011

Mulder, R., Baik, C., Naylor, R., & Pearce, J. (2014). How does student peer review influence perceptions, engagement and academic outcomes? A case study. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 39 (6) 657–677. http://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2013.860421

Nulty, D. (2016). Designing (effective) Curricula 101 [PowerPoint slides] used as Teaching Materials for ACU GCHE.

Nulty, D. (2021). Understanding unit design and constructive alignment [PowerPoint slides] used as Teaching Materials for ACU GCHE.

Sadler, D. R. (2010). Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35 (5), 535–550. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602930903541015

Sadler, D.R. (2016). Three in-course assessment reforms to improve higher education learning outcomes. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(7), 1081–1099. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2015.1064858

Page last updated on 28/11/2023

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